It is not uncommon to find yourself ina situation where your RV refrigerator isn’t working; but, the freezer is working regularly. Naturally, you wonder how that could be happening. Here is an explanation:
The coolant inside the refrigerator is liquid, and it travels around the fridge. Its first stop is the freezer, so it gets cold enough to cool the rest of the refrigerator. If the cooling capacity is compromised, this principal component will be affected first. The good news is that you can solve and troubleshoot your fridge in easy steps
How To Troubleshoot An RV Refrigerator
When diagnosing your RV refrigerator unit, the first thing you need to do is check to see if it is sitting level in your RV. You will need a carpenter’s level for this task. If that looks level, check to see if the cooling coils inside the refrigerator and the freezer are cold, and the heating coils are hot.
Ideally, you should use a thermometer to check the temperature of your RV refrigerator. Your RV’s average, the temperature should remain between 40-42° F. But you may place your hand on the cooling coils and use your sense of touch and best judgment. Once you’ve checked the cooling coils, check the heating coils.
If you have a gas freezer, then check behind the refrigerator. There should be a flame present. Does the flame seem to be the correct size? If your RV refrigerator is electric, the temperature should not be above 85° F. At its normal temperature, you should be able to touch the heating coil. However, there is the risk of a burn if the coil is overheated. So what do you do if your freezer is working as normal, and the refrigerator is not working as normal?
Most likely, you have airflow problems most commonly caused by a clogged diffuser. Sometimes you can verify this by listening to the evaporator fan. It will sound abnormally noisy.
If you do not hear it immediately, give it time, it goes through cycles.
How To Troubleshoot a Refrigerator
A refrigerator provides cooling by absorbing heat. If it doesn’t have anything to take heat from, it will become noticeably warmer. RV refrigerators are unconventional in a way that when they are opened, they warm up more quickly than a home appliance. It may take anywhere from 8 to 24 hours for an empty RV refrigerator to cool to start the cooling process.
- Defrost the layers of ice.
- Inspect the door seals. They should be tight.
- Verify the pressure of the propane; it helps to have a manometer present.
- Confirm airflow on the outside top and bottom of the refrigerator. Both vents should have the most airflow and remain unobstructed. Otherwise, heat will accumulate and affect the inside of the refrigerator.
- In gas refrigerators, you should have a flame. If it does not look like an accurate size; it will affect cooling performance. Consult the manual to clean the refrigerator’s burner.
- Users have reported that turning off the climate control improves long-run cooling efficiency.
How Cold Should an RV Refrigerator Get?
Inside the freezer when shut should be at 0° F or -17.8° C. The inside of the refrigerator when shut should be at 34° F, or 1.1° C.
It is normal for the main compartment will hover around 40 to 42° F (4.4° to 5.5° C), like any other fridge. Use a refrigerator thermometer to measure the temperatures accurately. All refrigerators have the same design flaw in which they tolerate inclines for only so long. When routing trips plan ahead and turn your fridge off before you hit the inclines. Taking steps to care for your refrigerator will save you hundreds of repair costs in the long run.
How Long Does It Take for the RV Refrigerator to Cool?
Typical user experience will tell you it takes four to six hours to reach maximum cooling potential. Yet, with older models, it can take upwards to 24 hours. If the weather is particularly hot, it is common for electric refrigerators to take longer, as it struggles to cool against the heat.
It is recommended to turn the refrigerator on the day before you leave for a trip, or at least before you plan to put food inside. Double-check that the refrigerator is at the correct temperature before you put your food inside.
Be mindful that an RV fridge is different than the one at home. It is vital to keep the door closed as much as possible. Think about the item you want, where it is in the fridge, and then grab it quickly. Do not stand at your RV refrigerator door and wonder what you want to eat. Always shut the door tightly.
Help with Air Circulation
To help reduce stress on your fridge, purchase an affordable battery-operated refrigerator fan. Install the fan in front of the refrigerator compartment blowing upward. A fan will reduce the initial cool downtimes, and dramatically improve the refrigerator’s efficiency.
Inspect the Roof Vents
There are two vents located in your refrigerator to vent heat. One vent is located behind the fridge, and the other vent is located on top of the fridge. Obstruction of the roof vent is a common cause of inappropriate cooling. One recommendation to help vent hot air is to place a 12-volt fan on top of the roof vent. The fan should be able to regulate temperature automatically. Most fans are easy to install and can be put in with the help of household tools.
Those who have gone this route and either put in a fan themselves or have it done professionally, report up to 50% better cooling functions.
Check for Leaks
The cooling solution that lives in all those twisted coils is a mixture of water, hydrogen, and ammonia. If your RV refrigerator is leaking, one of the first things you will notice is a heavy pungent ammonia smell. The fluid is yellow and can stain the floor beneath the fridge. This can be a big job to troubleshoot, so you may want to consider hiring a professional.
Ammonia can also create a buildup of sediment within the coils and block the mixture from circulating properly. This usually only happens with older units. That typically happens gradually over time, though. Temperatures inside the appliance will slowly rise until it no longer cools at all. If that is the case in your RV refrigerator, then it is recommended to dispose of the fridge appropriately, and replace it.
Ammonia is a toxic chemical and can damage the lungs if inhaled, irritate the skin, and damage the eyes. Those who handle ammonia should wear protective gear. Protective gear includes a rubber glove, a face mask, and protective eyewear.
Burp Your Refrigerator
There are two methods of burping a refrigerator that has been known to fix cooling problems. One way is to remove the unit from your RV and place it on its side. You will hear a gurgling sound which should subside after five minutes. Then you repeat the process on the other side. After that, place the appliance right side up onto its base level. Rock is backward tilting it at a 45-degree angle. Do not allow it to tip completely. Hold it there for roughly five minutes as well. After that is done plug the fridge back in, or fill it with propane. It may take up to six hours, but the refrigerator may start to cool after it is burped.
The second way you can burp a refrigerator is to place the unit upside down for 24 hours. Once done, set it upright onto its base and level. You should hear gurgling for roughly five minutes. Wait until that sound stops. The refrigerator may start to work after about 6 hours.
This method is fairly effective at reviving warm refrigerators. Owners have happily reported saving hundreds of dollars in repair costs and replacements.
You do not need to be too technically skilled to diagnose and fix a warm RV refrigerator. But the process could still feel overwhelming. Thankfully there are plenty of professionals who can figure out the problem and do the work for you. If you feel the problem could be an electrical issue then call in a certified professional.
Remember to always follow safety procedures when working with appliances and electricity. Also, note that proper handling of the refrigerator should be closely followed in day to day use. By following certain steps, like knowing what you want out of the RV refrigerator before reaching in will help cool the inside with less stress on the appliance. Watch out for steep inclines. If you know ahead of time that the RV will be traveling roads with a lot of inclines, or it is rough and bumpy, turn off your RV refrigerator before trying to power your way through. Check those heating and cooling coils on good days so you know when the temperature is off on repair days. By doing simple things like those mentioned above you will face fewer repairs and can enjoy your freedom without worry.